Students dismayed over camping ban on campus

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Students and faculty criticized University administration for a new rule restricting camping on campus and questioned the motivation at a time when camping is a prime symbol of the Occupy movement at a faculty council meeting Monday.

University spokesman Gary Susswein said the amendment to the Handbook of Operating Procedures took effect Jan. 11. The Office of Legal Affairs drafted the amendment. President William Powers Jr. then reviewed it and submitted it to the University of Texas System, where it was approved by the executive vice chancellor for Academic Affairs, Susswein said.

The amendment defines camping on campus as the attempt to establish temporary or permanent living quarters outside University housing, sleeping outdoors between 10 p.m. and 8 a.m. and setting up a sleeping area at anytime with tents and other “sleeping equipment.” People may not camp on campus except in cases of sports tailgating, performances authorized by the University and natural disaster situations.

Patricia Ohlendorf, vice president for Legal Affairs, said the amendment is not a response to Occupy UT protest concerns, but is supposed to clarify rules already enforced by the University. Powers said the administration will help students interested in protesting.

“If it’s the symbolic act of putting up tents we can work with that,” Powers said.

Powers said the amendment is important to reiterate the University’s position.

“I don’t think we want people for long periods of time camping on campus,” Powers said.

The Occupy UT movement has protested against several grievances, including proposed tuition increases, but it has not used camping as a form of protest. Assistant English Professor Snehal Shingavi said the amendment seems like a response targeting the Occupy movement.

“I think that it has a political motivation,” Shingavi said. “It’s been presented in a way to intimidate students from protests.”

Marketing professor Mark Alpert said there are rational reasons to limit camping, such as campus safety. He said the amendment is not an administrative attempt to limit free speech, but is an important clarification to provide to students.

“I think this administration is trying to encourage students to protest,” Alpert said. “A lot of people are trying to work to help people to disagree with us.”

Lucian Villaseñor, Mexican-American studies senior and Occupy UT member, said it feels like the administration is trying to squelch Occupy UT. Villaseñor said occupying a space at UT is still a possibility if membership numbers increase.

“The only way to receive any change here is to not operate within the system,” Villaseñor said. Villaseñor said the administration should not make exceptions for other groups if Occupy UT is not allowed to camp out. He said administrators approached individual Occupy UT members but did not attend general meetings to discuss the camping issue.

“They’re trying to outline how we can have a toothless protest,” Villaseñor said. “Maybe they think we’re a threat to the University.”